Stepping Outside the Ivory Tower

07 Aug

So I’ve hit a little bit of a vein lately in my studies. I’ve had a while of studying various biblical books and subjects, and seeing good fruit from it, but not having any of it quite arrest me. In the past, I’ve had two key books really grab me and speak to me (Daniel and Malachi), that thrust me into study in such an impassioned way that I could hardly help myself but read and journal and learn as much as I could.

It’s been a little while since I’ve hit this kind of flow. But starting about three nights ago, I think I’ve found my next one. I am still very much working things out, so I don’t feel I should go into it just yet (Hah, how’s that for a cliffhanger?), but I hope to give some space to it in the future. Right now, I’m studying around on different viewpoints, and it’s proving very enlightening. Not necessarily that the argument is becoming mroe clear — but let’s just say I’m learning a lot about applied hermeneutics.

I would consider myself to be a pretty staunch supporter of a literal interpretation of the Bible. I still am. But what I’m finding in this study process is how different your interpretation can look within the nice tidy halls of academia, versus the grit and grind of real life.

Now, I don’t want to make the Bible subject to our society. Experience always takes a back seat to Scripture. Always. People are very capable of thinking, feeling, and experiencing unbiblical things (i.e. Mohammed and Joseph Smith each saw an angel which preached a different “gospel”… see Galatians 1:7-8 for Paul’s sentiments on that). But the more I look around, the more I am coming to the conclusion that no responsible hermeneutic can come up with set-in-stone theories entirely apart from experience. Experience takes a very, very distant second place to Scripture, but it must be factored in to how we understand Scripture. Let me explain a little more what I mean.

Firstly, there is a crucial “experience” that all Bible scholars must engage in — but comparitively few actually do. I’m talking about prayer. As someone who really enjoys studying, I am all too aware of how easy it is to click into study mode, begin dissecting a passage, and treating it as an ancient puzzle to be reconstructed. If care is not taken, it is very easy to forget that what we are reading is the very Word of God, given to us for our edification. It is easy to forget that He desires to speak to us and to cultivate fascination and love in our hearts from what we’re reading. When we become so scholarly that we forget to talk to the living, very-present Author and Inspirer of what we read, we miss a huge piece of the meaning. Debating the ancient Hebrew and Greek meaning is valuable, helpful and good, but it is nowhere near as precious as conversing with the God from whose heart the verse sprang in the first place.

Secondly, there is the experience of real people, real communities, walking through real life. For instance, cessationists have arguments that sound pretty good on paper. Step into the ivory tower, argue about interpretive methods, historical precedent, and cross-referencing some similar concepts, and you might walk away wondering if the gifts are really for today or not. It’s one thing to have an intellectual (and, might I add, very Western) debate about it. It’s another to fly out to some underground church in a third world country, live among them, and watch them walk out the gifts in a no-nonsense way. All of the smartest arguments in the world clatter to the ground when you actually see someone raised from the dead. It’s not that Scripture has changed. It’s not that the Lord changed His mind since the Bible was written. It’s that we have come to a flawed understanding of what His heart actually was, and as a result, were unable to see what was right in front of our faces. Post-Millennialism (the idea that Christians take over the earth before Jesus comes back) sounded really great until WWI and WWII shattered the illusion of human goodness and progress. Did the Scripture change? Did human nature change? No, but the scholastic community was forced to look beyond the theory to how well it played out in real life, and that radically altered some perspectives.

With enough arguing and mental wrangling, you can make just about any point you like. The question is whether or not it will hold up to its first brush with common sense. The even more important question in theology is whether or not it will stand true under the fiery gaze of the God who inspired all Scripture (1 Cor 3:11-15).

So as I undertake this study (whatever it may be… heh), I am trying to move forward with caution. I don’t want to be so wise in my own eyes that I can’t see around my over-inflated opinion to percieve the truth. But I also most certainly do not want to try and mesh Scripture with our fallen culture. But I know that if my theology is not bathed in prayer and worked out within a real Christian community, it’s most likely just going into the vault of yet another ivory tower in academia. I’m not interested in that. I want the heart of God.


Posted by on August 7, 2008 in Theology


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4 responses to “Stepping Outside the Ivory Tower

  1. Tim Van Arsdale

    August 7, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Interesting insights! I can agree that experience and community must be second to the Scriptures. However, Jesus uses the practical experiences and nature of community, to explain the spiritual. His parables were filled with examples of growing plants, and sibling relationships, and even money like the parable of the lost coin to bring us closer to knowing Him. Enough of my ramblings…hope this adds to your post…thanks for your thoughts.

    Tim Van Arsdale
    Author, You’ve Got Spam! a refreshing collection of e-mails regarding mercy ministry

  2. Amanda Beattie

    August 7, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Tim, I totally agree. Just as long as we don’t go look at nature and invent new theology, we’re in good shape when we notice paralells to what He has revealed to us. 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  3. John Barker

    August 8, 2008 at 12:48 am

    Ok, you have my intrest all piqued for this, “whatever it may be” thing. Just hope it won’t be like a month or something away. 🙂

  4. Amanda Beattie

    August 8, 2008 at 1:52 am

    I can promise no timeframes, but I definitely need some more clarity, so we’ll see. 😀


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